“Challenging the Norm”


In Kimberley Tauches, Challenging the Normal, she writes about the various challenges transgender individuals face when living in such a binary restricted society.  To begin Tauches defines transgender as “an umbrella term that is used to describe a diverse group of people who intentionally “mismatch” their sex and their gender identity or behaviors” (134).   In the article, sex is to referred to as a “biological categorization based upon examination of the genitals, chromosomes, and/or hormones”, while gender is referred to as the social traits and behaviors that are expected to be on display depending on your biological sex”, with both of these terms working within a binary (134).  When all three of these terms are taken into account the concept of “mismatching” takes affect when the social construction of the appropriate “matches” of sex and gender are not the norm.  Society is constructed in such a way that your sex is either male or female and your gender is either masculine or feminine; this does not leave much room for those who do not feel comfortable in either one of the categories.  Tauches writes, “gender is a social construction that arises from biological sex” therefore suggesting that these normalized “matches” are determined at birth and dependent on external, or secondary, sex characteristics.  But what about those individuals whose external sex and how they internally feel about their sex do not match up; therefore creating a dissonance between their sex and gender.  These individuals face many social problems, all due to “challenging the norm.”  In the article, Tauches cites one of these problems is the role of medicine and our desire as a society to “fix” things.  She writes, “doctors believe intersexed children will face social problems if they are not surgically altered, because their bodies do not fit within the boundaries of normal.”  What is important to note here is the realization of the social stigmas that come with being a transgendered individual.  These doctors do not want these individuals to face problems due to their intersex identity (due to a superiority complex to “save” others by “playing God”), however what about the social problems they will face in the future if their sex and gender do not match up because they were not given the choice?

In the documentary “Toilet Talk” transgendered individuals open up about social problems that they face being and individual whose sex and gender match is out of the norm.  The conversation centers around the bathroom and the discrimination they face in that social sphere.  They speak of beatings and verbal abuse that that they have to indoor all because their gender and sex do not match the picture on the bathroom wall.  My question has always been, why “normal” bodies feel do threatened by what is viewed as abnormal?  This is an example of the social problems that transgendered individuals face everyday. We as a society do not know how to deal with these individuals who are “out the norm” and therefore react in dangerous ways. This violence and marginalization is just another way to police bodies and use scare tactics to force individuals into the “norm”.

However, another question this article and the documentary brings up, is what is the norm, and are transsexuals actually “challenging” it? The title of Kimberley Tauches article is Challenging The Norm but to what extent is this true? In the documentary we see transsexuals that are all exerting themselves as either male or female, in the way that society says they should: through clothes, hair styles etc.  Although they are pushing pack into the “normal matchup” of sex and gender, they are also very much a product of society and still feeding into the binary.

In article titled Raising my Transgender Child, a mother details the struggles and triumphs that come with raising a child that at such a young age, does not fit into our definition of normal.


Penel (formerly known as Penelope) “came out” to his parents a very young age in which he proclaimed, “Mama, I don’t feel like a boy.  I am a boy.”  His mom then goes on to write that Penel  “wanted the doctor to make him a peanut” and he “imagines himself as a dad and a husband”, as well as now excelling at sports.  It is very important to note that both Penel’s mother felt these were important attributes to point out and Penel himself embraced them as a way exert his maleness.  Penel does not want to be a girl because that is not who he feels he is and he has every right to be and portray himself as he pleases.  It is interesting to me however that in the very nature of trying to reject these societal guidelines, we play right back into the binary.

How do you think this dynamic works and do you think that binaries are ingrained so much into society that no matter how hard we try to reject them, we will always succumb?

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